the deep psychological impact of the Second World War

Home-coverJohn Gray at the New Statesman:

The Second World War was not just another event – it changed everything.” Even more than the Great War of 1914-18, Keith Lowe argues, the Second World War altered human experience fundamentally. In one way or another it affected more human beings than any other violent conflict in history. Over a hundred million men and women were mobilised, and yet the number of civilians killed was greater than the number of soldiers by tens of millions. Four times as many people were killed as during the First World War. But the effects ranged far beyond the numbers of dead. For everyone who died, dozens of others found their lives changed irrevocably. Whether as refugees and exiles in the great displacement of people that followed the war, or else as factory workers, slave labourers or targets for the protagonists in the conflict, uncountable human beings were caught up in the devastation wreaked by this unprecedented upheaval.

Terrible as it was, the impact of the war was not entirely negative. In much of the world the postwar era was energised by an idea of freedom and a feeling of hope. The generation of leaders that emerged was old enough to remember the Great Depression, and determined that nothing like it would happen again. Ideas of social reconstruction through government planning were applied on a large scale, producing welfare states and managed economies in which living standards were improved for much of the population. The global scale of the conflict produced new international institutions, such as the United Nations, in which the nations of the world could co-operate on free and equal terms. In Africa and Asia, the end of the war gave anti-colonial movements increased ambition and vitality. Scientists were gripped by dreams of using the technologies that the war had spawned to enhance human life everywhere.

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